Mystic Meg tried to predict it. Arthur C. Clarke and HG Wells were intrgued by it. George Orwell nailed it more than he could imagine.
How do you pre-empt the next big thing? How do you calculate how people will behave beyond iPads? How do you know where humanity will go in ten years, in twenty years, in a hundred years?
An agency called PHD Worldwide this week tried to predict the future of digital marketing. Suffice to say they’re not likely to influence reality TV shows in half a century like George did. Not with their effort, a promotional video entitled “We are the future“.
The video has received almost unanimous criticism from the marketing industry on a number of levels. It’s fair to say the criticism has bordered on the vitriolic and that in some ways I feel sorry for PHD and quite ashamed of elements of the reaction (surely neither the video and the comments have had a positive effect on the digital marketing industry?).
I think PHD dropped a bollock, but I’m not prepared to run them into the ground because of it. (Make your own mind up by watching for yourself).
Countless broadcasters and publishers have had a pop at pre-empting the technological breakthroughs of the future with limited success, whilst literary works have sometimes been capable of warning whole societies of the dangers awaiting them, with a varied amount of success.
Perhaps PHD’s problem was that they focused on what people are doing now and not what they will be doing. The video is nothing more than a buzzword filled brain dump of things that on the verge of becoming mainstream. And quite frankly the comments on brand blocking stinks of a lack of real thought behind what drives human beings in their online behaviour.
It seems to me that the best predictions of the future focus less on what technology we might be able to make use of, but how people might continue to treat each other (and themselves) in the advent of technological advances. Orwell not only identified the cyclical nature of politics in Animal Farm but also recognised the role that technology might play in freedom in the future (see 1984).
And there are the works that didn’t intend to predict the future but, whether inadvertently or not, detailed the inner workings of the hunman psyche.
Books like The Picture of Dorian Gray should make us reflect on the consequences of today’s image led society; songs like Lives in the Balance by Jackson Browne might be firmly rooted in the Reagan policies towards Central America in the 80s but the words (“When a government lies to a people/And a country is drifting to war”) resonate deeply with conflicts in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan; whilst the stories of Gabriel Chevalier might reflect on rural French life in the 1950s, but they may as well mimic the celebrity and sex fuelled culture that we see all around us on a daily basis.
And that’s not to mention the two-steps-back evolution of humanity in H.G. Wells The Time Machine or Kubrick’s surreal vision for 2001: A Space Odyssey where the relationship between man and machine is blurred.
I wonder if PHD had focused a little more on how humans might interact with each other, rather than overlaying buzz words on a bunch of under-age actors, maybe the digital world would be discussing what the future holds rather than why some agency fucked up a viral campaign in the past.
But despite the weird and patronising execution - come on, using kids to say words they don’t understand is not insightful nor clever – fair play to PHD for having a go. It’s a real shame that agency folk from around the world have been so quick and eager to condemn their competitor and kick them, repeatedly, whilst they’re down. Is it any wonder they delete comments that spouted politically charged abuse from a blog that they are liable for the content on, free speech or not?
The future is an enigma and it always will be. Very few people can predict if with any accuracy.
But evidence suggests that the best way to predict the future is not to jump on the next bandwagon but to get under the skin of what makes human beings tick, what makes our humanity that bit different to the rest of live on earth.
The internet might give us the tools to do amazing things, but it’s our underlying nature that drives what we do with any technology.
I’d be delighted to know what you think on the situation. On first view I wondered what the fuss was about; on second view I told myself this was a bit shit; on third view I realised I’d witnessed an epic #fail by a company who claims to understand their sector and had managed to offend their peers rather than call them to arms. But I take with me some words from Larner Caleb, a wiser man than many. People make mistakes, ok? Less vitriol, more debate methinks. To paraphrase another wise man who I work with, “No-one died, get over it”.